Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who has taught at Harvard, claims that he experienced Paradise after dropping into a coma caused by meningitis.
As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences. I grew up in a scientific world, the son of a neurosurgeon. I followed my father’s path and became an academic neurosurgeon, teaching at Harvard Medical School and other universities. I understand what happens to the brain when people are near death, and I had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death...initiates Dr. Alexander.
However, it was in the autumn of 2008 when the neurosurgeon’s initial beliefs would be staggered. After seven days in a coma, he reports having experienced something that did not only make him believe that paradise exists, but also offered him scientific reason to support consciousness after death.
During the days of his deep coma, the doctor claims his "brain-free" consciousness was transferred to another dimension of the universe, identical to the one described by numerous people that have witnessed these kind of experiences throughout the time. As he much vividly describes:
There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.
But that dimension—in rough outline, the same one described by countless subjects of near-death experiences and other mystical states—is there. It exists, and what I saw and learned there has placed me quite literally in a new world: a world where we are much more than our brains and bodies, and where death is not the end of consciousness but rather a chapter in a vast, and incalculably positive, journey.
Dr. Alexander believes that opponents of the reliability of "out-of-body journeys" claim that these accounts stem from minimal, transient or partial malfunctioning of the cortex whereas his own near-death experience occurred while his cortex was simply off. In the meanwhile, he points out that “skeptics” will attack him for the revelation of his “heavenly” experience and that is why he uses scientific jargon to back up his claims.
And, indeed, the attacks have begun. For instance, The Irish Times say that:
The good doctor has a book to sell. In Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, he explains this Passage from skepticism to willing, enthusiastic acceptance. or that:
The skeptics (to whom the doctor himself has referred) unkindly suggest that Alexander made it all up to help distinguish his volume from other ludicrous screeds in the “mind, body and spirit” section of your local bookshop.
Nonetheless, the similarity of all these near-death experiences known to humanity is at least fascinating. For Paul Stanford of The Guardian, the resemblances may be seen from three different point of views. The first is that Heaven must exist because so many people verify it. For the second, all these people are sharing one of the biggest collective delusions of human history. There is a third point of view, however, which, according to Stanford, is the most plausible:
At its most simple, all of these pictures of after-life touch on the most basic of human needs, something that predates written language, philosophy and even religion itself. From the time the first Neanderthal sat next to the lump of dead protein that had been his or her mate and realised that something had to be done about the smell of rotting flesh, we have wanted there to be something more, something beyond death. When that body was put into a ditch, or pushed over a ledge into a ravine, the one left behind looked into the void and ached.The writer continues by suggesting that Alexander's enthusiasm has been fuelled by space exploration. Then, he recalls Dante’s Paradiso:
Each age, though, creates a heaven in line with its cultural reference points. Alexander's picture arguably owes a debt to a more recent enthusiasm, the images conjured up by the literature of space exploration. There is, though, a more timeless debt contained in his descriptions. It is Dante who is most readily called to mind by the beautiful, blue-eyed woman who guides the Harvard doctor round the land of fluffy clouds. In his Paradiso of 1321 (part three of his Divine Comedy that also includes Inferno and Purgatorio), Dante is shown around the many-layered celestial domain by Beatrice Portinari, a childhood friend of the poet who was his idea of female perfection.
At the end of the day and Stanford's article, the dilemma is not whether Paradise exists or not but how we wish to perceive it:
But Dante – unlike Alexander – has the good sense, after much travelling, to realise the essential futility of his quest. Once he has left behind a paradise garden, the moon and the planets, even a mystical domain of shadowy figures, he approaches a place that is, he admits, beyond words, though he tries to summon up a few to describe how indescribable it is. Botticelli, perhaps, makes the point better. In his illustrations of Dante's Paradiso, he leaves the final page blank. And that image is surely far better attuned to what we really want of heaven than the current bold offer of proof positive.